Book Review: Women, Work & The Art of Savoir Faire

Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & SensibilityWomen, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility by Mireille Guiliano

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe it’s because I read the reviews before I actually read the book, but I started out feeling very skeptical about this title. As I finished reading it and was able to spend some time reflecting, I realized that I didn’t dislike it as I thought I would. I’m also quite certain that if I were to meet the author she’d likely both terrify and completely captivate me.

I’m writing this review from the perspective of someone who operates in a world that is in many ways very different from Mireille Guiliano’s. I shy away from the big-city lifestyle that the author appears to thrive in and my career most certainly won’t be built on entertaining for a living. I can still find value in the author’s tale of success as a career woman, but I wonder if some of the negative reviews this book gets is because Mireille Guiliano clearly lives–and thrives–in a different world than a lot of us, certainly those of us reading this type of book, do, and she’s not trying to make us more comfortable with that fact.

Like the author, I also married for love and was “whisked away” from all that I knew at the time. My story, though, doesn’t involve me falling into a great job because of my language skills and cultural differences, and I highly doubt I’d ever be able (or desire) to hack it in the industry the author works in. On the other hand, her reminders to us to be assertive, to truly be comfortable with ourselves, and to perhaps dig deeper into why we’re not always okay with true competition with one another, are useful and applicable. Throughout this book, I identified parallels between her life and my own and then the two stories would veer away from one another again, perhaps to return later in some small way.

So the author appears to have walked into a few choice opportunities, but I find it difficult to justify the claim that her whole life has simply been charmed and she’s not qualified to tell “the rest of us” how it’s done because she has no idea how “the rest of us” have to make things happen. I think the author is a woman who has guts, a sharp mind, and the “savoir faire” to make things work her way. She knows what she does and does not like, and she knows what she’s good at. These are certainly things I want to be able to definitively declare about myself as I’m digging deeper in my career to determine my own long-term goals, so I appreciate that about her writing, even as I’m certain I’ll never run in the same type of circles she does.

At several points in this book I had to stop and think through some of what the author said specifically about men. Was it bashing, or merely comparing? The longer I thought about this, the more I wondered if perhaps her belief in women, and herself, as inherently better at many things, isn’t a large part of her success. That “I’m better than you mentality” can easily rub a lot of us the wrong way at first glance or meeting, but I’ve come to respect it. Still, I think I’m leaning toward calling it man bashing in this book, and that’s something I try to shy away from as I try to differentiate myself in a positive way as a woman working among men. (Can I not be excellent on my own, without comparison to someone else or advertising their shortcomings?) I had some difficulty getting past this as I read this text, so I did at several points imagine myself in conversation with the author, asking for clarification.

Certainly, don’t expect this book to be a “how to” guide to success. (I believe the author even states this somewhere near the beginning.) Alternately, there are very literal guides dropped into this book, including recipes for entertaining business colleagues and superiors as well as a detailed list of wardrobe must-haves. In this way, I think this book is a “just enough to get you headed in the right direction” type of guide. The author won’t tell you exactly what path you should take to get where you want to be, but she’ll give you enough that if you’re really interested in pursuing this, you might be inspired further to figure it out. Chances are, if you picked this title up in the first place you’re already doing some self-exploration and you’ll find the value in her story as an example of someone who has clearly done well.

If you’re on a mission to become a more polished professional woman, you might find something of value here, certainly if you’re not easily offended by someone who clearly has the guts to say things very bluntly. I did make a list of reminders and important excerpts as I read through this, so I certainly found some value in Mireille Guiliano’s wisdom and her decision to share it with us.

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